November 15, 2012


Bedtime Is Canceled. By Cece Meng. Illustrated by Aurélie Neyret. Clarion. $16.99.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. By Mo Willems. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $17.99.

Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? And Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries. By David Levinthal. Illustrations by John Nickle. Schwartz & Wade. $17.99.

The Chicken Problem. By Jennifer Oxley & Billy Aronson. Random House. $16.99.

Railroad Hank. By Lisa Moser. Illustrated by Benji Davies. Random House. $16.99.

What Can a Crane Pick Up? By Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Illustrated by Mike Lowery. Knopf. $16.99.

Splat Says Thank You! By Rob Scotton. Harper. $16.99.

      Don’t believe everything you read. Or see. Or hear. Or are told. Because, you see, some children might just have written a note saying, “Bedtime is canceled,” and their parents might not have believed it, and it might have been thrown away, and the wind might have caught it and blown it onto a reporter’s desk, and it might have been picked up as a news story and reported everywhere from newspapers to TV newscasts to tablet computers. And the school principal might have believed it, with the result that “she poured her morning coffee into her purse, combed her hair with her toothbrush, and dried her face with her calico cat.”  And parents might have believed it, and so “TVs were left on, toys were left out, dishes from midnight snacks piled up and up,” and nobody went to sleep because bedtime was canceled. And the next morning, parents “served scrambled pancakes instead of eggs. And one thousand twenty-six of them put on their pants backwards and inside out.” And teachers forgot the answer to 1 + 1. And by dinnertime, “fifty-six thousand parents fell asleep in their mashed potatoes.” And so there was nothing to do but write another note saying, “Bedtime is not canceled,” and make sure the same reporter who got the first one got the second one, so everything would be normal again until the children came up with their next note….and if you want to know what that one says, you will simply have to find out from Cece Meng and Aurélie Neyret. Just don’t believe them.

      And definitely don’t believe Mo Willems, who covers the inside front  and back covers of his new book with title suggestions such as “Goldilocks and the Three Salmon,” “Goldilocks and the Three Falcons,” “Goldilocks and the Three Oak Trees,” “Goldilocks and the Three Clams,” “Goldilocks and the Three Pumas,” “Goldilocks and the Three Ants,” “Goldilocks and the Three Big Feet,” and many more – finally settling on Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, the three being Papa, Mama, “and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.”  So the dinosaurs make chocolate pudding of various temperatures while Mama muses loudly, “I SURE HOPE NO INNOCENT LITTLE SUCCULENT CHILD HAPPENS BY OUR UNLOCKED HOME,” and the dinosaurs “went Someplace Else and were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come by” when “a poorly supervised little girl named Goldilocks” does happen to come by, and the dinos chuckle with glee and evil intent, unless it was just the wind or something.  And Goldilocks eats the hot pudding “because, hey, it’s chocolate pudding, right?” And she eats the cold pudding because “who cares about temperature when you’ve got a big bowl of chocolate pudding?” And she absolutely dives into the third, just-right bowl of pudding because, after all, why not?  And she ends up “stuffed like one of those delicious chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbons,” and uh-oh.  And the dinos watch and gloat and anticipate a scrumptious snack of their own until Goldilocks runs out the back door just in time as the dinos run in the front door, the moral being that dinos should always lock their back doors. Don’t believe a word of this. Laughing out loud is, however, acceptable.

      Goldilocks appears as well in Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? Believe this one: Binky the cop, a fedora-wearing frog detective, solves the mystery of the break-in at the three bears’ house, and Goldie gets her comeuppance: “They’ll feed her three meals a day where she’s going, and she’ll have plenty of time for rest.”  And David Levinthal and John Nickle don’t stop there: there’s the case of Hansel and Gretel, brought to Detective Binky by the sister of a certain witch who has gone missing. And the Humpty Dumpty mystery, which involves a pig who “knew his bacon was cooked.”  And the whole Snow White mess, with an apple core as evidence to be “sent to the boys down at the crime lab.”  And the huge hole in the ground with, nearby, “a kid running around with a goose under his arm and – you’re not going to believe this – a basket of golden eggs!”  Yeah, nothing to believe here.  Just move along, folks. Ignore the talking goose and the really huge guy who looks like a salesman on lots of steroids – a clumsy one, too; hence the huge hole in the ground.  Nope, nothing to see or read here unless you want to keep laughing until your sides ache.

      And no geese in The Chicken Problem, see? Nothing to believe here that a little math won’t cure. From Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson comes a book with page numbers such as “4 + 1 = 5” and “18 + 1 = 19.”  And it’s just a simple story, really, about problem-solving Peg and problem-solving-helper Cat, who is a cat, and their planned “perfect picnic with a pig,” which gets out of hand when it turns out they have four pieces of pie, not three, so Cat opens the chicken coop to get “a really little chicken, to eat that really little piece of pie!”  And everything is fine except for the other 99 chickens, all of which have flown the coop and gotten hilariously all over the pages (which, appropriately, look like graph paper).  And so there are “Chickens leaping! Chickens skipping! Chickens hopping! Chickens doing somersaults! Chickens standing on their heads! Chickens standing on each other’s heads! Chickens doing the chicken dance! Chickens bending over and wiggling their bottoms in the air!” Oh no! What can Peg do? What can Cat do? What can the pig do? There are chickens everywhere!!! “Chickens dashing! Chickens splashing! Chickens skipping! Chickens flipping! Chickens swinging! Chickens singing! Chickens bouncing! Chickens pouncing!” There must be something, something, to be done...and (whew!) yes, there is. It is an “amaaaaazing” solution. Read all about it and be amaaaaazed.

      But oh no! Some of those chickens must have grown up and gotten into Railroad Hank, because Lisa Moser and Benji Davis have another story that you just can’t, shouldn’t., wouldn’t want to believe!  Hank’s heading his train up the mountain to see Granny Bett, who’s “feeling kind of blue,” and he keeps stopping to talk to folks along the way, and they tell him just the right thing to do to cheer Granny Bett up, but Hank doesn’t quite get it. So when Missy May suggests “a plate of scrambley eggs,” Hank doesn’t take the eggs – he takes the chickens! And when Country Carl recommends “a glass of creamy milk,” why, of course Hank loads two cows on his back and walks them over to his train to go with the chickens. And then Reel-’Em-In Sam thinks Granny Bett would like “a sizzling pan of fresh fish,” and fish come from the pond, so Hank bails out the whole pond into barrels and loads them on his train as well. And pretty soon, as the train chugs up the mountain, May and Carl and Sam and Cinnamon Cobbler (who suggests “a crunchy red apple,” which leads Hank to take an apple tree) are all running after the train, all the way to Granny Bett’s house, where you bett…err, you bet that everything turns out just fine after all.

      And Hank’s train isn’t the only thing out there picking things up, oh no!  What Can a Crane Pick Up? Well, just ask Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Mike Lowery, and will you get an answer!  Lots of answers – “Can a crane pick up a wooden wheel? A wooden wheel and a load of steel. A load of steel, a wheel, a tree, and a submarine from beneath the sea.”  Is that all? No, no! “Can a crane pick up a crane? It could! And billions of bundles of builders’ wood.”  And it can smile all the while (smiling cranes? why not?). Poles, pipes, bricks, cartons, cages, cuckoo clocks, cows, cowboy boots… “What else can a crane lift high in the air? A sunken ship, a polar bear, and boxes and boxes of underwear.” Believe this one, oh yes, believe it – cranes have never been so absurd, and so much fun!

      Believe, too, in friendship, and in the latest adventure of Splat the Cat and his mouse friend, Seymour – you see more of Seymour feeling bad, though, in Splat Says Thank You! Seymour is sick in Rob Scotton’s latest Splat tale: the little mouse is all spotty and icky and uncomfortable, and Splat wants him to smile, so Splat makes a Friendship Book to thank Seymour for everything the mouse has done.  Such as getting Splat to try out for a play, helping Splat learn his lines, helping him remember them when he forgets while on stage, helping him fix a Christmas ornament (badly), helping him get his toe unstuck from the bathtub (neatly), even helping Splat win a “Space Cat Rocket Race” with Spike.  Poor Seymour feels too yucky to smile anyway, even though Seymour made Little Sis smile when she was sick and covered in spots, and made Splat smile when he was sick and covered in spots.  But of course, at the end, friendship conquers all and Seymour does, at last, manage to smile – in the name of friendship. Absurd? Oh yes – but this is absurdity you can believe.

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